“Being a boss is not my forte,” says Eileen Fisher, jerking around in a sleek conference room at the headquarters of the company she founded almost 40 years ago.
This may seem surprising given that 72-year-old Fisher has maintained a leadership position in an often brutal industry defined by constant change.
After all, she’s the designer who built a fashion empire, offering modern women comfortable yet empowering designs in natural materials that simplify their busy lives. In some way, in an industry where a truckload of her clothing is being burned or buried in landfills every second, she was an early pioneer of environmentalism as a core her brand value. She is the founder of the company, and in 2006 she decided to transfer ownership to her employees rather than take the business public or buy it.
But front and center were not Fisher’s style. It’s been about 18 months since her CEO of the company became one of hers in the form of Eileen Fisher (female). She stepped up to stabilize her ship after Brand.
Now the slow fashion queen is ready (albeit slowly) to relinquish that role. Ultimately, she explained, the brand could exist without her.
“Being CEO was never part of my identity. It wasn’t something I was comfortable with,” Fisher said in a video chat. I like to think I’m leading.” Her signature bob sparkled like a pearly helmet and crashed into black glasses as she spoke. and made her own name and fortune in the process of creating what the New Yorker called an “interesting plains cult.”
“I have a vision of how this company should move forward, but I know I’m not the one to execute it.
just do less
After more than a year of searching, Fisher said he was happy to have found a successor. As of early September, Eileen Fisher’s new CEO will be Lisa Williams, currently Patagonia’s Chief Product Officer.
Williams seems like a good fit, at least on paper. Patagonia, who donates 1% of his sales to environmental groups, is also a visionary founder who, like Eileen’s Fisher, tells how products are made, worn, and idealized. I have an ideal that should be manufactured and worn again.
A decade before many competitors took such initiatives, Fisher launched the Renew line to sell used clothing in 2009, and the Waste No More initiative turned damaged clothing into fabric. Patagonia was also an early adopter of organic materials and has a long history of political activism, once running ads urging people not to buy their products.
“The fashion industry is facing a terrible challenge with too much stuff, overproduction and overconsumption,” Fisher said. “How can we start to understand it? How can we grow our brand without increasing our carbon footprint? I found that it was synced with
Fischer said the two women are also perfectly matched in that they are not driven by purely financial results. (Just like Eileen Fisher has kept her profitable for all but two years since her inception, her last year’s sales were her $241 million). The fashion supply chain is a global, dark ecosystem where many brands have little or no idea who makes their clothes.
“We agree that one of the most important ways to be sustainable is to cut back,” Fisher said. “Just do less. Buy less, consume less, produce less. If you’re trying to run a business and measure your success by how much you sell, this is a very difficult line.” But I needed someone who was totally on board with it.”
Williams, a 20-year Patagonia veteran, said this week he felt “affection and admiration” for Eileen Fisher’s brand and the way it does business.
“The unconventional leadership structure there doesn’t make me nervous. I’m actually in my comfort zone when things look unorthodox.” I think I will.”
“The last few years have been very difficult for anyone in retail, let alone anyone looking to shift the fashion paradigm,” Williams added. Inside, I have great admiration for everything they’ve done to re-establish the brand to its original values.”
To get things back on track, it was necessary to cut out some of the bold colors and prints that had crept into the collection and instead emphasize the traits Fisher is known for. The latest clothing is a palette of muted shades such as ecru, cinnabar and rye. Forms such as her kimono jackets, her sleeveless tunics, soft cotton and gauze, her linen cropped palazzo her Irish trousers, are designed to be simple and flattering.
The key now is finding a way to bring these looks to the next generation.
thirst for simplicity
As suggested by the “coastal granny” TikTok trend and the success of high-end luxury brands such as Jil Sander and The Row, minimalist capsules—clothing collections made up of interchangeable items, and of clothes you can create. Maximize numbers — is the new fashion moment. There was a collective craving for simplicity that Fisher had been steadily delivering since the mid-1980s, and her first designs were inspired by a kimono she saw on a trip to Kyoto, Japan.
The stereotype persists that the brand primarily caters to a more middle-aged, upper-middle-class demographic that seeks an air of understated elegance. Fisher emphasized that it is no longer entirely true.
Fisher had just graduated from the University of Illinois when she started working in 1984. She is the second of her seven children who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, and she originally came to New York to become her designer of interiors. (She had her $350 in the bank account, and she didn’t know how to sew either.) But she wanted to free the woman by giving her prescriptions.
In her view, the simpler something is, the more it goes with more things, the longer it can be worn, and the longer it lasts in your wardrobe. It was an approach. They keep in mind that if you believe in the way your clothes are made, you can vote with your wallet, even if it makes it more expensive.
“It’s hard to convince people to buy less with the promise of longevity, but we want them to understand that they have choices when it comes to purchasing our capsule system.” Young shopper wears her favorite outfit (boxy tops are a hit, she says). It’s an approach that’s influencing young designers as well as young shoppers.
“Irene was one of the few industry leaders who made me feel that my company’s success was possible,” says menswear designer Emily Bourde, Fischer as she laid the foundations for herself. added, “It’s been incredibly inspiring.” own brand.
“I visited Irene and her team when I was going through growing pains with Bode,” Bode said. “Her dedication to retail, slow growth, remaining privately owned and, of course, creating an unconventional yet successful business model around reuse and sustainability is unmistakably me. has shaped the strategy and results of our business.”
Looking back at past interviews, it’s clear Fisher has been working on ways to separate himself from his brand for some time. Over the years, she has often spoken about how she felt as if she no longer needed to be there. She spoke of her thoughts that her company has evolved beyond her. Even so, she’s still far from letting go.
“Those quotes were true in that moment,” she said. I had to go back to the core and reorganize things so people could understand exactly how things should work It’s an important part of my legacy and what I leave behind.”
work is not finished
With Williams’ imminent arrival, Fisher faces the prospect of a little more free time. She doesn’t want to travel, but Kundalini instead wants to spend time doing yoga and meditation, playing mahjong with friends, and learning how to cook delicious Japanese food after her longtime chef recently retired. she said she likes it. She also has two adult children, Emily and Zach, who she wants to spend more time with.
But it’s clear that Fisher’s work isn’t done. For one thing, outside of her office, she hopes to continue to focus on her education through her charity, the Irene Fisher Foundation. She also dreams of starting design school.
And she wants to make sure her employees—all of her brand’s 774 co-owners—are prepared for what’s coming next. Remaining a privately held company and letting employees run part of the business has been a big part of her success.
“I hope that what we have been building here in Irvington is a relatable concept that in 30 years time it will be something that other people might try and build.” On the Hudson River at work.
“I don’t do trends, I don’t do runway shows. I wasn’t a conventional CEO,” she said with a small smile. “But again, I don’t think I was really a conventional fashion designer either.”